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Feature: Winnipeg’s Best New Restaurants 2010

Winnipeg’s dining scene is renowned for its incredible variety and impressive culinary talent that present some of the best cuisine in the country. This year, Segovia Tapas Bar & Restaurant is named one of the country’s best new restaurants as chosen by the editors of WHERE Canada. From innovative small plates to Japanese street crêpes, this year’s top five best new restaurants in Winnipeg cover global tastes.

Segovia creates a twist on traditional tapas with dishes like grilled hanger steak on beetroot. (photo by Ian McCausland)

Top Notch Tapas

While tapas is not unheard of on local menus, Segovia Tapas Bar & Restaurant is this city’s only exclusively tapas restaurant. Ever since the 43-seat restaurant opened, tongues have been wagging over Executive Chef Adam Donnelly’s innovative plates and the restaurant’s stunning interior.

Segovia playfully salsas between traditional and modern in both the menu and décor. The lounge has a slightly more “Old Spain” style, with rustic wooden tables and exposed brick wall. In comparison, the chic dining room is decidedly current with a stencilled black wall and a beautiful polished silver fireplace.

The food is just as spellbinding as the ambiance. Spicy pork albóndigas, a traditional Spanish dish, find a fine balance. The heat found in these plump meatballs charges forward like a feisty bull. House-smoked tomato sauce, shredded Manchego cheese and sprinkle of bread crumbs tame the spice.

Most of the meats found in charcuterie and cheese boards are cured at the restaurant. Carnivores should order the hard-to-find jamon ilberico de bellota. This cured Spanish ham comes from the black Iberian pig that feeds on acorns in the wild. Shaved thinly and presented on a wooden cutting board, these silky and savoury flakes of meat are paired with crusty grilled bread drizzled in oil.

The chef’s creativity shines with the grilled hanger steak. Served rare, these delicate pieces of meat are masterfully seared and heaped on a bed of earthy beetroot. The sting of horseradish salsa verde and tangy Valdeón cheese layers add exciting dimension.

Chocolate lovers will salivate over dense chocolate torte with crushed pine nut brittle. A scoop of house-made cardamom ice cream complements the chocolate with satisfying creaminess. 484 Stradbrook Ave, 477-6500, Map 2: D-3.

Garden Burgers

The recent launch of Boon Burger Café means Winnipeg is first in the nation to have its own all-vegetarian burger joint.  This West End cafe, and its nine gourmet veggie burgers, have become a favourite amongst vegans and meat lovers alike.

Bringing gourmet meatless burgers to Winnipeg is the work of Boon’s husband-and-wife team Anneen DuPlessis and Thomas Sohlberg. They executed a winning formula pairing wholesome, fresh ingredients with innovative flavours.

Patties made with brown rice, legumes and soy are adorned with fresh, unexpected toppings, spices, and sauces without a hint of animal products.

The signature Boon burger offers a classic meat-tasting patty made of mushrooms, brown rice, tofu, and oats. Dressed in sweet and sticky peach chutney, the Boon can become a “bacon” burger by adding a slice of smoked soy.

The Buddha burger is a soy-free, curried chickpea patty, dressed with creamy vegan mayonnaise, cool cucumber sauce and garden veggies. The crisp patty bursts with a moist, aromatic curried centre.

For a taste of Greece, the “chicken” patty, is smeared with black olive tapenade and sprinkled with crumbled “feta,” a.k.a. tofu cloaked in oregano, garlic, black pepper and lemon juice.

Everything on the menu is house-made, including gluten-free brown rice buns. Try one with the “Turkey” burger—a moist patty stacked with caramelized onions, maple-glazed yams and cranberry sauce that cleverly mimics the taste of real turkey.

In house, diners nosh elbow-to-elbow at two long community tables in a ‘small world’ friendly way.

Boon food is designed to be delicious, energy-efficient fuel for the body. End with a dehydrated chocolate-covered banana, a sweet way to show yourself some love. 79 Sherbrook St, 415-1391, Map 1: Q-2.

Creative Crêpes

In a neighbourhood whose reputation is built on many “firsts,” Osborne Village now boasts the city’s inaugural Japanese-style crêpe joint. Kawaii Crepe is winning the hearts of young and old alike as it introduces Japanese street food.

Japanese crêpes vary in presentation and texture compared to the French variety. For starters, in Japan crêpes are rolled like ice-cream cones. The crêpe’s edges are also notably crispy compared to the French version.

Meaning “cute” in Japanese, Kawaii embraces its name.  Everything from the eatery’s adorable winking crêpe logo to the cleverly named crêpes amp up the cute quotient. The  room itself is stark white, with bright and cheerful splashes of primary colours splattered on the walls.

Customers typically linger near a colourful menu mounted on the wall deciding which urge to satisfy: sweet or savoury.

For the savoury crowd, “The Osborne Branch” is a deliciously ooey gooey combination of melted cheddar, ranch dressing, and grilled chicken. Crispy pieces of bacon add salty punch that counterbalances the pancake’s sweetness.

Health conscious diners can sub in a multigrain crêpe for $1.50. In “Chickplease”, the flax seed-speckled, multigrain crêpe is well matched with roasted red peppers and snap-fresh sprouts. A smear of garlic-spiked house-made hummus infuses every bite.

Dessert options also captivate. The signature “Stewy Rooey” combines a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a generous portion of house-made rhubarb crisp. Fresh fruit, like shaved coconut and pineapple, are used in creamy bubble teas and other specialty drinks. Pair Kawaii’s apple cider, replete with lemon wedge and cinnamon stick, with “Apples Gone Wild.” The cinnamon-laced caramelized apple crêpe and drink are soothing treats to warm up with on a chilly winter night. 201-99 Osborne St, 415-2833, Map 1: R-3.

Mexico Mania

La Bamba owners Edgar Rascon and Juan Godinez brought a passion for homestyle Mexican cooking to Winnipeg via Saskatoon. Godinez has opened two locations in Saskatoon since 2007, prior to Winnipeg.

Rascon takes pride in La Bamba’s philosophy of serving authentic Mexican cuisine made from scratch with fresh ingredients. Lively Spanish songs welcome diners to plush, cushioned seats, surrounded by orange stucco and exposed brick. There is a rustic charm to the cozy subterranean dining room that has changed little from its former tenant Mise.

Smiling servers deposit complimentary baskets of freshly fried corn chips and the salsa de jour. A vivid salsa verde of tomatillos, cilantro and jalapeño has a comfortable yet addictive kick. Diners will also find heat in chipotle, cheese-filled jalapeno poppers paired with piquant ranch dip.

Lime juice punctuates fiery camarones borrachos (aka drunken shrimp), which swim in 100 per cent agave tequila with sautéed garlic, tomato and onion. This tangy dish is served over garlicky rice that soaks up each drop of boozy, citrus-tinged sauce.

Strips of chewy, lime- and oregano-marinated round roast are grilled with onion and cheese. The roast is served with spicy cilantro and a mound of silky guacamole for mouth-watering roll-your-own tacos de quesocarne.

La Bamba prepares toothsome traditional cuisine for modern times, while being sensitive to dietary restrictions of Celiacs and vegans. In fact, most dishes are gluten free and can be prepared with vegan cream, cheese and a soy-based meat substitute.

Ask for tequila-spiked ice cream for dessert—not listed on the printed menu, this house-made creation pairs the bright, bitter flavour of tequila with cool, creamy ice cream. 222 Osborne,
415-5713, Map 1: S-3.

Warrior Rolls

With Japanese restaurants sprouting up in almost every neighbourhood strip mall, it can be tricky to discern the best of the bunch.  Downtown newcomer Samurai Japanese Restaurant has an edge with its picture-perfect presentation, a serene atmosphere and inspired dishes.

It is also one of the only places in town that serves “izakaya” snacks. In Japan, an izakaya is a Japanese watering hole popular with the after-work crowd that serves small snacks.

Instead of the hustle and bustle of a Tokyo izakaya, Samurai takes a more zen-like and sophisticated approach to its ambiance with traditional drum and flute music. A feature wall displays a samurai headdress and sword, an homage to the restaurant’s name and respected Japanese warriors.

Owner/Chef Bo Li doesn’t scrimp on the finer ingredients of life. Many of the house rolls, for example, feature Alaskan king crab, barbeque duck and lobster.

The Captain’s roll will excite fusion sushi connoisseurs. Glistening, lightly torched pieces of tuna and salmon catch the eye and taste smoky. Inside, cucumber and avocado are mixed with generous pieces of Alaskan king crab.

Unique to Japan’s Osaka region, boxed-style “Hako” sushi is served. This type of sushi is made with a box that molds and presses it into a square. Samurai’s traditional Osaka roll is made with smoky barbequed eel, avocado, and Nagi sauce—a complementary reduction of sugar, fish and soya sauce.

Don’t miss out on the aforementioned izakaya snacks offered, especially the stand-out spicy mango scallops. Presented on a seashell-shaped plate, bite-sized pieces of fresh scallops are skewered, baked and coated in lip-smacking sweet mango-mayonnaise.

A sight to behold, the crab and avocado salad takes shredded pieces of soft snow crab layered atop sliced avocado and a nest of salad. Cucumber and yellow peppers add crunch, while drizzles of mayo and spicy kimchi sashimi oil make this a star dish in both presentation and taste. 330 Portage Ave,  944-0333, Map 1: P-3.

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